Sandeep Joshi

‘The only solution is the India-U.S. nuclear deal’

‘It would ensure smooth uranium supply from big foreign players’

NEW DELHI: Acute shortage of uranium is badly hitting power generation in the six nuclear plants in the country as the generation is not even half of the current total installed capacity of 3,770 MW. Though the Government is working on new initiatives, the demand for uranium, which is going to shoot up in the coming years to meet the nuclear power generation goal of 20,000 MW by 2020, could be met only from “external sources,” said Union Minister of State for Power Jairam Ramesh.

“Against the installed nuclear capacity of 3770 MW, only 45-50 per cent of it is being utilised due to scarcity of uranium, with some plants not able to generate even 30 per cent of its capacity. Ironically, two new units — 220 MW unit of Kaiga IV in Karnataka and 220 MW unit of the Rajasthan Atomic Power [RAP] station — are lying idle due to the same reason,” Mr. Ramesh told The Hindu.

Bleak scenario

It would take at least another six months to make them operational after arranging uranium from domestic sources. And by March next year, another 220 MW unit of RAP would be ready, whose fate also depend on the availability of the nuclear fuel. Despite adding 660 MW of nuclear power capacity in 2008-09, the generation situation could be bleak, Mr. Ramesh said.

Underlining that the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal could be the only answer to meet India’s uranium requirement, Mr. Ramesh said though the Centre through the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) was conceptualising new projects to increase India’s uranium production, the nuclear deal was necessary to ensure unhindered of supply uranium from big foreign players including Australia, Canada and Russia.

Informing about the initiatives being taken at the domestic level to increase supply of uranium, the Minister said a new processing unit is coming up at Turamdih in Jharkhand that would start supplying the nuclear fuel within the next six months. Similarly, work has commenced on the $270-million Tummalapalle uranium mining project in Andhra Pradesh, but it will take three years to commission.

Huge deposits

Mr. Ramesh, who recently visited Meghalaya, said efforts were on to start a uranium mining project in the North-Eastern State which has huge deposits of the nuclear fuel that could take care of the country’s need to some extent. However, there was opposition from locals and environment groups, he said.

“But we are determined to overcome this opposition for the betterment of the country and the State. Interestingly, the State Government has showed some willingness provided a nuclear power plant is established there. First time a ‘White Paper on Uranium’ is being prepared by DAE, while a delegation of State legislators will soon visit uranium mines to get firsthand information. A team of eminent doctors will visit Meghalaya to dispel myths on uranium mining among locals,” Mr. Ramesh added.